Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jamaicans, We are Everywhere

The Impact of Jamaicans on the world
Basil Waine Kong

I left Jamaica in 1959 when I was fifteen years old and returned after I retired on reaching my 65th birthday in 2008. During my lifetime, I have been fortunate to experience all the major cities of the United States as well as over 100 countries. Wherever I may roam, I can depend on two things: I will hear Bob Marley’s music and find Jamaicans making a positive contribution. The list is endless but would obviously include Will.I.Am, the creative genius of Black Eye Peas, the gentlman from Lauderhill, Florida (Joel Waul)who made the giant ball with rubber bands and sold it to Ripley's Believ It for Not for a large amountofmoney and th USA Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Last week-end was no exception.

I was in Orlando attending my Grandson’s (Kai) first birthday and as is my custom, I read the local newspaper. The Sunday Highlight was the story of an Attorney from Jamaica (Wayne Golding) who chairs the Bi-racial Committee for the Orange County Schools. He was pictured standing proudly in front of portraits of his two heroes, Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley. His committee is responsible for maintaining racial balance in the Orlando public schools and promoting racial harmony. He migrated to the United States 28 years ago, married and is the father of two children. You make me proud Mr. Golding.

I recall the story that during one of the Olympic Games, the Prime Minister of England and the Prime Minister of Canada were sitting together when the Canadian Prime Minister remarked that England won more medals only because there were more Jamaicans in England than in Canada. Jamaican men and women are the fastest human beings ever to walk (and run) on this earth and the most gifted overall.

We are a remarkable people. Never doubt that a small group of talented committed people from a little Island can change the world. The question remains whether a group of talented committed people can change Jamaica. We know many of you living foreign are doing great things but what are you doing for Jamaica and what is Jamaica doing to promote your return. If Jamaica is to overcome poverty, crime and educational and health care disparities, we must shed the “old” Colonial mentality and embrace the power of ingenuity and invest wisely in our future. Your home country could use some help in this, our hour of need. Leaders in Jamaica could also use a healthy dose of humility in accepting your talents. Come no man. Put your hands and shoulders to the wheel for Jamaica! We cannot just complain about the current government without a brain trust to replace those who continue to promote old ways of thinking that prevents true progress.

I have always been impressed that Japan has no natural resources, (no oil, gold, silver, bauxite, diamonds, wood, steel,etc). They are the third leading economy in the world because they buy natural resources from other countries, add value and sell it back to the world at a mark up. This is people power! They buy steel, build cars and sell them back on the world market at a tremendous mark-up. Are they smarter than Jamaicans? Absolutely not. We just sell our most talented and gifted people to the world cheap.

We need more people to be part of the solution and fewer to be part of the problem.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Land Reform in Jamaica

Can Jamaica become a major food exporter?
Basil Waine Kong, Ph.D., JD

If Jamaica is to ever to achieve prosperity, security, freedom from dependence on foreign aid and dominance from abroad, we must seize the opportunity to forge a strategy for ourselves and for future generations where the rule of civil law, not the rule of the jungle governs the conduct of our people. To this end, it is our duty to try novel social and economic experiments that allow Jamaicans to reap economic benefit from the sweat of their labour. One such “experiment” may be to bring our agrarian expertise into full swing by promoting the growth of exportable agricultural products to the world.

An abundance of vacant, fallow land is available in Jamaica and can be used to plant exportable crops and to decrease the amount of food that we buy from other countries. This precedence effectively addresses many of our social and economic ills. The planting and reaping of profitable harvests by putting more land into production with available workforce will decrease the number of Jamaican citizens who are idle in our cities. My grandmother was fund of saying: “Idle hands become the work of the Devil.” This is borne out in the high crime rate that plagues us.

It is in the best interest of Jamaica to implement significant land reform for the purpose of increasing food production and reducing poverty. The purpose of a proposed land reform should be to bring about a more equitable distribution of land ownership and access to land. This can be brought about by changes in laws and regulations as a scheme to increase the acreage under cultivation, increase output, meet the growing shortage of food worldwide and at the same time reduce poverty and crime in Jamaica? A land of abundant rainfall, sunshine, fertile soil, expert cultivators, access to huge markets and relatively cheap labor is ripe for a guided agricultural revolution. I was impressed that as a boy we could just stick a limb from a tree into the ground and it would grow into another tree.

The contrast between rich and poor in Jamaica arises mainly from the mal-distribution of land ownership and the lack of access to land by poor Jamaicans. As a result, many Jamaicans do not have access to land that would promote self employment. So, both land and an able bodied labour force are idle, kept apart by outdated laws, customs and bad tax policy. The land certainly should be taxed (site value rating) but not the improvements made to the land and the products reaped from the land for the 1st year of usage. We need to take the incentive out of keeping land out of production and create a graduated taxation or tariff on production after the immediate needs of the farmer have been considered.

Due to extremely low real estate taxes coupled with the increasing value of land, it is currently profitable for entrepreneurs to buy land, take it out of production, pay very little taxes, and eventually resell the land at a significant gain. Baring capturing the land, current landowners have little incentive to either develop their property or make it available for agricultural production or industrial development. On the other hand, potential farmers do not have access to arable land for cultivation. In their desperation and frustration, many of them move to urban areas, survive under deplorable circumstances or turn to crime to subsidize their livelihoods.
The goals of the proposed program are to:

1. Increase the acreage of land that is used for food productions.
2. Increase the number of Jamaicans willing to be farmers.
3. Provide subsidies to cultivators for seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and farming equipment.
4. Increase food production (Eat what we grow, grow what we eat) and provide an avenue for market access to farmers to sell their produce.
5. Increase food exports (a government body would guarantee the prices of various food items and prepare and package them for export).
6. Promote the production of canning and packaging plants.
7. Reduce unemployment and promote self employment through farming and provide jobs in the packaging sector.
8. Increase home ownership of the land that is used for farming.
9. Reduce crime by employing young men and women who are now idle in the urban areas.
10. Increase the quality of life for unemployed Jamaican workers through employment and financial empowerment.
11. Increase taxes after subsidizing these farmers for three years.

Further, I recommend that we examine existing laws, regulations and customs relating to land ownership and land tenure. Preventive legislation needs to be removed and new incentive based legislation introduced to:
1. Increase taxes on land that is not being used to incentivize landowners to at least rent the land so it can be productive.
2. Take land where taxes are more than three years in arrears.
3. Relocate unemployed citizens from urban ghettos by reallocating them to land that is laying waste and providing adequate housing to incentivize unemployed citizens to relocate; (Food for the Poor has demonstrated that adequate housing can be built on 10 acres of land for less than J$500,000 per unit. How much does it cost to keep a man in prison?)
4. Adjust Real Estate taxes so that existing homesteads are not adversely affected;
5. Monitor recipients of these land grants to make sure these opportunities are not squandered.
6. Favor married couples.

We have before us the opportunity to forge prosperity for ourselves and for future generations of Jamaicans. A key strategy on our war on poverty is to help individuals to own something and have an investment in a lawful society so they will have an investment in protecting the property and interests of their fellow citizens. The true test of our compassion is in the way that we care for our most vulnerable citizens. We can have a true democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both. The same law for the lion and the lamb is oppression. In order to treat some people equally, we must treat them differently. This is not a gift or a hand-out; it is an investment in our citizens.

To this end, I recommend that our government form a task force to explore the merits of this proposal immediately. The more we are able to put forth realistic ideas, the more of a chance we have for a true reformation and referendum of the current economic policies that is failing our country and our people. In the words of Franklin Roosevelt: "I see on-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished...The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

This land is our land. Let's put it into production! While I believe that property rights must be carefully safeguarded, I also believe that poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Something Amazing Took Place Today

Today’s Testimony: Basil Waine Kong

I am one of those people who believe that I live under the guiding hand of our Heavenly Father. Throughout my lifetime and daily, I can point to divine intervention in my personal life. I am inspired to write this note because something remarkable occurred today as my wife and I were returning from our daily work-out.

I am living in Kingston, Jamaica but happen to be in Atlanta this week. Since moving back to Jamaica a year ago, I have developed some very bad driving habits as is the norm there. I speed, cruise through stop signs and don’t always wear my seatbelt. This does not go un-noticed by my wife who frequently reminds me about it. Well, just to be funny, I decided to show off to her what a good driver I am this morning, so, even for a two mile journey home, I dutifully buckled my seat belt, obeyed the 30 miles per hour speed limit, put on my turn signal, came to a complete stop, and cautiously made my right turn and came almost face to face with a police officer who was monitoring the traffic light close to our house. On any other day, I would have been nabbed. Today, I was in the protection of the Almighty. My wife reminded me that she never travels on the road without asking for God’s traveling mercies and protection specifically from tickets and accidents. When she is driving, and most of the time much faster than I would, she has never received a ticket or been in an accident for 40 years.

This incidence today reminded me of other Divine Interventions. Once having lost an important document, in total frustration, I called my wife and explained that the document was on my desk the day before and now I have searched high and low to no avail. She responded, “Darling, just stop and let’s pray about it”. I lowered my head and prayed together. As I opened my eyes, there was the document on the floor under my desk. I just hollered, “Thank you Jesus!”

Just two weeks ago, I became upset about how my portfolio was being handled and ordered by broker at Wachovia to sell all my stocks and send me a check so I could transfer by account to another brokerage house. Since then, the stock market has been down and I avoided the loss. Now, I am able to reinvest at a lower basis. You wouldn’t just call that luck, would you?

There are instances in my life that the direct hand of God has steered me or a family member out of harm’s way into a blessing. The blessings come in all shapes and sizes and are only limited to my faith which I hope is bigger than a mustard seed.

If you would like to read more about the miracles in my life, I invite you to access: “My Seven Near Death Experiences” on this blog. The lesson is: Because I live a blessed life, whenever I find myself on the ropes, in trouble, confused, desperate or otherwise in need of diving intervention, I smile and confidently put it in the hands of the Almighty. I have only come this far by my faith and God’s grace. As my praises go up, showers of blessings come down. He has never failed me. I wish the same for you.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Racism and Classism in Jamaica

Race Related Myths of My Youth
Basil Waine Kong, Ph.D., JD

According to Steve Biko (1946-1977), one of the heroes of the South African revolution: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” It would clearly be an uncontested statement to say that if England did not invent racism, they certainly were the purveyors of it. They were not only geniuses at controlling large slave holdings with a few soldiers and plantation owners but were also experts at convincing various black populations around the globe about their inferior status and how civilized it was to adopt the ways of the conquerors. Here is the expressed mission statement for England: “Come, bright improvement on the car of time and rule the spacious world from clime to clime.” I genuinely respect a people who can enslave a population, brutalize them and then get them to love them and hate our own, adopt their culture, envy and fight their wars for them. How did they do that?

One of the strategies employed by the British was the “Test Match” between England and Jamaica as a test of loyalty to the crown. Operatives were strategically placed in the crowd to identify people who applauded the English team and criticized the Jamaican team. In other words, only those who identified with the oppressor were chosen to be teachers and offered leadership opportunities. So, our government and educational institutions became overwhelmed with those who celebrated the ways of the British and devalued anything Jamaican as butto (Bantu). If the English devalued Black people, so did the black people who were placed in power. It didn’t matter how smart, skillful, eloquent and charismatic you were, if you did not speak the Queen’s English or didn’t know how to use your knife and fork you would be excluded.

According to Cathy Brown (Gleaner Editorial, Sept. 12, 2011)): "Exploitation of caste, race, class, tribal animosities, and so on, was used selectively, along with the iron fist of military force, and massacres, among other things, to cow larger populations as needed. In all of this, the English made sure to have a mole-type, privileged elite embedded in the target populations, which acted as influential Anglophile resources on which they could rely to sway popular discourse, behaviour, and decisions. That is why until this day, we see this tactic of selective elitism which ensures that some people would almost die for England."

Another important strategy for control was the development and use of the "Justice of the Peace" in each community of Jamaica. The opportunity for opening a bank account, get into a school, get a job, join the arm forces, get out of "trouble" was greatly reduced if you could not get a recommendation and sign off from your local JP which ordinarily meant that you had to have been good little boys and girls. How does one become a JP? You cannot qualify or apply for the job. It is an appointment by the Queen's representative, the Governor General, based on the recommendation of other JPs.

After 300 years of occupation, the English convinced us of our inferiority and held the prize. We were told that if we didn’t want to be second class or buto, we had to speak and dress Western style, learn English manners, poetry, history and music,dance the quadrille,adopt Christian names, use your knife and folk correctly, deny your own being and transform yourself into an Englishman. Only then could you be worthy of respect. With this brainwashing, I will never extricate myself from this mindset from my love of poetry, being properly dressed for every occasion, cricket, afternoon tea and properly using my knife and fork. We are never allowed to have our own ideas, language, dress, music, dance, religion, values or culture. A better life is to migrate to England, Canada or the United States even if you end up working at the most humiliating and menial jobs. Our station in life is to serve the white man.

While Jamaica was granted Independence in 1962, Britannia continues to rule. It seems that no one is willing to challenge English traditions even when they make no sense in Jamaica. Our judges still wear wigs, a few of our ladies still wear seven layers of clothing like Queen Victoria and some of us continue to believe in the myth of white superiority. While we probably will always drive on the left, speak English, use the Gregorian calendar, play cricket and even enjoy afternoon tea, the one remnant that I wish we would disavow is classicism and racism. We certainly can be better off without being better than anyone else. It boils down to valuing our own, respecting each other and having a little compassion for our less fortunate fellow citizens. I am confident that we can make this change. I often observe how waiters snap to when a white customer enters compared to the poor service received by our own citizens. Do you serve the broken biscuits and crackers to your own family while saving the best for your guests? Is your living room reserved only for important guests? Who should be treated like royalty in your household? The Queen of England or your own husband or wife?

More than a few Jamaicans I have encountered, particularly those with authority, view our British traditions and practices with sanctimonious reverence---too sacred to be tampered with. If our society is to maintain these antiquated regimens, we might as well require our people to wear the clothes that fitted them when they were children. We must grow up and wear garments that suit our purposes. You have got to wear your size. While the British moved on, we continue to hold on to the antiquated practices of our slave masters.

As children growing in rural Jamaica, we played hard. When I was ten years old, I came home from playing with my shirt torn, hair disheveled and dirty from wrestling around in the mud with the other pickney dem. Even though I had never seen a Rasta man, when my Grandmother told me that I looked like a Rasta, I cried because the reputation of Ratafarians were that they were all ganja smoking, lazy criminals who had uncombed hair that harbored insects. During the fifties, politicians delighted in demonstrating to the public how brutal they could be to Rastafarians. India had their untouchables and Jamaica had Rastafarians. They were the hated out-group that mothers would run from with fear, taking their children, when approached by any Rasta, male or female.

I finally figured out that this was another self fulfilling prophecy. They were undesirables and untouchables so none were eligible for a job nor could they participate in any legitimate form of commerce or social activity so they could only earn a living by doing things that did not depend on their government or the good will of the greater society. So they turned to the herb, art, music, writing, philosophy, meditation, religion and kept to themselves. Out of this experience, a marvelous thing happened. Bob Marley and the Wailers became the most popular band in the world and for that matter in the history of the world. Their (our) music is more popular and appreciated around the world than Michael Jackson, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Beethoven, Brahms, anybody! They single-handidly saved the Jamaica economy and brought in more revenues to Jamaica than tourism and the bauxite industry.

Even though they do not vote (unfortunately), they became the darling of politicians and mothers who now wanted their daughters to marry one and their sons to grow their hair and participate in this money machine.

The demand for their ital diet and Reggae music and musicians continues. I have traveled to over 100 countries and there is not a corner of the world that does not love Bob Marley. Dreadlocks are now accepted and prized throughout the world by rich and poor. In addition, the heart and soul of Jamaica is now revealed by Rastafarian artists, playwrights, poets, dancers and singers. While there is still more than a little resistance to the Rastafarian lifestyle, I am now complemented when I am told that I have the Afro-centric soul of a Rastaman. The Rastas I have known are proud men for whom I have great respect.

Even in Jamaica, I also grew up with the myth and was told in no uncertain terms that White people were better than Black people and the closer you are to being white, the better you were---"nutten Black no good". In my public speaking, I often ask groups of people to estimate the percent of white people in the world. I often get estimates as high as 80%. The actual percent is less than 18%. A friend went to the Congo many years ago to work as a physician at a medical mission. In the process of settling in, he interviewed several men to manage his house. After one interview, he asked the gentleman if he would like to work for my friend. The prospective employee responded: "Yes, if the white man wants me." As my friend is unmistakably Black, he asked one of the other white physician what that was about and was told that in the Congo, if you are a physician, you must be white. Who ever heard of a Black physician?

Except for the White House of the United States, wherever we roam, the guys in charge are white and the powerless tend to be Black. I am always impressed that even in Black countries of Africa and the Caribbean, the principle holds…brought about by white oppression. In addition to Louis Bennett’s famous: “Every John Crow think dem pickney white”, even in 2009, I have had two incidents that literally shocked my sensibilities. In one incident, I overheard a white looking student excitedly telling her headmistress that she was getting married. When the headmistress heard who her intended was, she advised the student very boldly and without hesitation: “You are too good for him. Him too black.” I was shocked and advised her in no uncertain terms that she should stop perpetuating this myth. In another, as a criticism of PNP political leadership, a very famous Jamaican gentleman said very boldly to the group of us: “Black people should run but should never run anything.” There is a poisonous assumption in majority Black British Commonwealth countries that getting important things done requires a white man or nearly white man with a whip.

The truth of the matter is that other than color and the way we are raised, there is no difference between Black human beings and a white human beings, black dogs and white dogs, black horses and white horses, black cats and a white cats, white rabbits and black, multicolored, pink, yellow or grey rabbits. If you have control over any of the above, you can train them to perform magnificently or horrendously. Japanese fighting fish can be trained to kill each other just by taking turns feeding one and not the other. In my travels, I have had the pleasure to see the “Flying Horses of Spain”. Suppose you saw the marvelous feats of one of these highly trained white horses and then they brought out untrained black horses to compete against the white horses, would you conclude that white horses are better than black horses?

Why isn't differences shoe size, eye and hair colour significant determinants of exclusion and inclusion?

If we treat white members of society like they were God’s gift to the world and from birth, cater to their material needs, make Black helpers available to them, take them on grand travel adventures, send them to the best schools and provide them with strong role models? On the other hand, if some Black children always have to be concerned about their survival needs, compelled to cater to white role models and bosses, attend the worse schools, have no access to computers and even books, and never travel outside the country, who is likely to be the most effective scholars, leaders and experts?

And yet we rise. It is a tribute to our genes, talents and our resilience that we can overcome great odds to excel in every field of human endeavor. We have conquered our struggles to become the greatest leaders, business owner, the greatest athletes, musicians, writers, scientists and human beings. Barrack Obama is the greatest leader the world has ever known. There is nothing that Black people cannot run.

Comment: ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dr. Kong: I see you have been the victim turned purveyor of mis-education. You think being black means being Jamaican. The Englishman or the Jew or the Irish or the African who were forcibly brought here all became Jamaicans. People like you who had the benefit of education would have us believe otherwise. You are so blinded, as to ascribe unto the mighty Obama greatness when he has done nothing as yet to warrant it...much like the Noble Prize people who were only too glad to patronise him!
The English did not brutalise a population as you suggest..they established a colony, brought in slaves, and would not, in the main, have brutalised them as they were valuable assets at the time. I am sure that some brutality took place, and is still taking place among us right now.
If we could only set our minds to doing what is right and stop wallowing in the evils past, real or imagined, it would be a better use of our talents!
While I could agree with you that some of the lesser, what appears to be meaningless pageantry could be dispensed with, they are still a part of our culture. Why don't you rail against the automobile, the aeroplane, and get rid of the PhD behind your name?
I wonder what is your take on black on black supremacy as played out in Biafra and Rowanda in recent times. It is not really a race thing it is a human condition.

Carlton Reynolds, Jan, 2011